Six Years of Writing: When I Began to Tweet and Why

Twitter has done something interesting for its 8th birthday: it is allowing folks to find their very first tweet. I couldn’t resist — mainly because I couldn’t remember how long ago that was nor could I even vaguely remember what I wrote for my very first tweet?
first tweet feb2008

 

Oh.

How creative! (snark)

But 31,000 tweet later as @dogtrax (I know? What the heck do I write about? I don’t know), I am still wondering how to push the boundaries of the 140 characters. I write 25 word stories, tinker with hashtags, collaborate across the world, make memes, take part in Twitter chats, share with others and steal from others (and remix what others are stealing from others). My professional development will never be the same. It’s an odd thing, this Twitter.

I started to use Twitter in 2008 a few months after a National Writing Project gathering in Amherst, where Bud Hunt (aka @budtheteacher) chatted over dinner one night about this thing called Twitter, and he wasn’t quite sure of all the possibilities and potentials for writers, but he was pretty confident it was not a flash-in-the-pan kind of technology. He grappled to explain it to us, and we grappled to understand. 140 characters? A stream of tweets? What the heck is he talking about?

As usual, Bud pointed us in the right direction. I started tweeting and haven’t stopped (see this post from 2008 that collects my first few tweets.) It’s true that not everyone cares or should care about what I post, but every now and then, something clicks and connects — some ideas that suddenly transforms your view of the world or your view of teaching or your kids, or technology — and in that moment, the power of Twitter is suddenly exposed. You do have to get through a lot of LOL Cats to get there but …. you know … it’s worth it.

Not long after I started on Twitter, I composed this poem:

I Dream in Twitter
Listen to the podcast

I dream in Twitter
in 140 characters
that cut off my thoughts before they are complete
and then I wonder, why 140?
Ten more letters would serve me right
as I write about what I am doing at that moment
in time,
connecting across the world with so many others
shackled by 140 characters, too,
and I remain amazed at how deep the brevity can be.

I find it unsettling to eavesdrop on conversations
between two
when you can only read one
and it startles me to think that someone else out there
has put their ear to my words
and wondered the same about me.
Whose eyes are watching?

Twitter is both an expanding universe
of tentacles and hyperlinks that draw you in
with knowledge and experience
and a shrinking neighborhood of similar voices,
echoing out your name
in comfortable silence.

I dream in Twitter
in 140 characters,
and that is what I am doing
right
at
this
moment.

Then later, I wrote and recorded this song:

Twitter This

I get up in the morning and I twitter all my dreams
140 characters is just enough for me
Then, each moment of the day becomes a Twitter storm
until the world is at my doorstep and everyone belongs
to

This Twitter space
inside this Twitter place
I’ve got a little bit of smile
on my Twitter face
Take me as a friend
or shut me out cold
I’m gonna keep on Twittering
until the platform gets old

I’m reading all my friends — the ones I haven’t met
from all across the globe, it’s a safety net
We’re putting pressure on Iran — let the China wall fall
let the information flow so we can all crawl
inside

This Twitter space
inside this Twitter place
I’ve got a little bit of smile
on my Twitter face
Take me as a friend
or shut me out cold
I’m gonna keep on Twittering
until the platform runs cold

 

Peace (in the tweet),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Lifting Off with Quidditch

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

If you read this blog every March (who does that? Slicers), then you know our entire sixth grade is moving into Quidditch Season. That’s right. We play Quidditch at our school. I believe this is the 13th year of the game, which first came into being on a suggestion from a student and has morphed into a challenging Physical Educational activity with connections to literature.

The rules have developed over the years but this video we made a few years ago for the 10th anniversary gives some pointers on how to play (feel free to steal it and remix it for your school):

Each of the four sixth grade classes chooses a name and identity, and then on the day of the Quidditch Tournament, the entire day is turned over to the four teams playing each other (and then a new tradition started last year — teachers and staff playing students in the evening. I’m already tired just thinking of it).  This is our teacher team from last year: Pink Fury.

Pink Fury Quidditch Superstars

Normally, the process of a class coming up with a team name is a lengthy process, involving lots of brainstorming, voting, elimination, more voting, and compromise. So, imagine my surprise when my entire class, on their own, came up with their team name this year: Icy Revolution. I had to make sure no one objected. No one did. They all worked together outside of my field of vision (I refuse to talk Quidditch until we start talking about Quidditch; Otherwise, it’s all they talk about. They try to engage in that conversation during the first week of school, believe it or not).

One student has already begun designing our team logo of a lightning bolt, dripping with ice, and a snitch in the background.

Icy Revolution

I am so impressed and so … let the games begin (as soon as we get through state testing.).

Peace (on the Quidditch Pitch),
Kevin
PS — and here is how they play it at college. I like our version better.

Book Review: The Memory Bank

Such a sweet book. The Memory Bank is a delightful story that begins with a hint of Roald Dahl (terrible parents, neglected kids) and veers into more Roald Dahl (a factory of dreams and memories, an innocent child will lead the way to understanding) and none of those echoes of Dahl is a bad thing, in my book (if I were to write it).

The story revolves around the wonderfully named Hope Scroggins, whose little sister has been left behind by their parents. Hope has been told to forget her sister, Honey, but she can’t, and thus begins an adventure into the factory where dreams and memories are held and documented, even as a band of outlaws is trying to upset the whole enterprise with juvenile shenanigans (like jamming one of the machines with lollipops).

There’s a gentle flow to The Memory Bank and it is jam-packed with wonderful illustrations, including whole sections (reminiscent of Brian Selznick’s work) where the narrative is told entirely in wordless images, one flowing after another until a new chapter of writing begins. It’s very effective.

The Memory Bank will remind you about what’s important in life, with a little adventure thrown in for good measure.

Peace (in the memories),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Laughs and Memes

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I don’t know what you make of the strange stuff I post sometimes (but thank you for reading anyway). Today’s slice is a sort of counterweight to the other day’s heavy one. Yesterday afternoon, I just started blasting out some Slice of Life memes, injecting some humor (I hope) into the challenge.

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Sol meme

And that’s what I have for today. Strange humor as my Slice of Life.
Peace (from the awkward angle),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

As we finish up our critical reading of Three Cups of Tea, I led my sixth graders through a discussion of the United Nation’s document, The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children, yesterday (We used a child-friendly version). This UN declaration is referenced in the book and was also mentioned as we spent a day last week learning about Malala and her story of one girl seeking to change the world through advocating for education of girls.

 

Of course, before we could discuss the document, we had to discuss the United Nations. Most students were only vaguely aware of the name and only a handful in my four classes had any sense at all what the UN was and what it does in the world (or even that it is located in New York City). The declaration for children, while very general in nature, gave them an insight into their own lives, and how lucky they are to in a safe and supportive place in the world. Reflecting on why such a document would even need to be created and ratified by world leaders is an eye-opener in itself. And questions about who enforces the rights of children? Another lesson on the real world politics of the global stage.

As part of a writing assignment, they had to choose one of the articles of the declaration and write briefly about the importance of that article. Here are a few examples:

I thought Article Seven is most important to children because it talks about education and earning to be responsible and useful. Children will have to know this if they wish to be successful later in life. Also, the article states that children can play and have an equal chance to develop themselves. I think that is important. — Emily

 

I think Article Four (protection) is important because if we didn’t have any of those rights, then America wouldn’t be like it is today. Most children probably wouldn’t receive protection, special care, good food, and medical services. If none of this was available, then children’s lives would be in a worse way, not getting any of the proper essentials to survive. That’s why I think Article Four is the most important one. – Jackson

 

I think Article Six – “You have the right to love and understanding …” is the most important one because without love, I feel life would be awful. It’s like having a parent take care of you because they have to and not out of love and understanding. If people don’t understand you, then you feel alone, like you’re the only one in the world who feels they are going through the tough time or problem. Even if you’re rich, if you have no love, you have nothing. I feel wealth comes from the heart and not the ATM. – Jacob

 

I think that the right of a child that is most important is that “you have a right to a name and to be a member of a country.” I think this is important because a name is essential so that you can be called something other than “child,” “girl,” or “boy.” The right to be a member of a country is important too, because if you don’t have that right, you’d typically be homeless and you might not be welcomed anywhere in the world. – Victoria

Empathy begins with understanding, and action in the world begins with young people understanding the world through the experiences of others. Yes, this UN document probably has no teeth — children still get lost from the view of the world leaders. My sixth graders at least had a chance to appreciate not just the hardships endured by other children in the world, but also the promise of good lives.

Peace (in the peace),
Kevin

Writing in Reverse

The Daily Create yesterday was a video create, telling a story backwards. Pressed for time, I used writing as my means for digital editing play. I had this idea of filming the writing of a sentence that could read forward and reverse, and then reversing the video so that it read reverse and forward. Or something like that. It didn’t come out exactly as I envisioned it but it’s pretty cool anyway.
And short. It’s wicked short.

Peace (in the vid),
Kevin

Slice of Life: With a Heavy Heart

 

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I didn’t even know she was there, in the audience. It was only later, after she tweeted out some pictures of my band playing at the regional fair one hot summer day that I understood that she had, indeed, made the drive, paid the admission for the fair, watched us perform, and then left before I could come out and say hello.

 

Yesterday, I learned that my friend, Jenn Cook, the director of the Rhode Island Writing Project, had been killed in a terrible accident on Friday. It’s difficult to express the sadness, even though we only met in person a few times. Our online interactions over music and writing and technology and just plain humorous anecdotes made Jenn a person I looked for in my online spaces.
jenn

The loss hang heavy over me.

Yesterday, I went to her Twitter feed, as a way to move backwards in her timeline. You might think it sort of odd to do that but I found it comforting to be reading her lines and seeing her images, and feeling her presence. Her last posts were about taking care of her ailing father, but there were pictures of dogs and snow and making digital compositions, and teaching pre-service teachers. Not long ago, Jenn and I were fellow guests on a NWP Radio program about the Making Learning Connected MOOC, where Jenn was a participant who used the ethos of CLMOOC to transform her writing project’s work. As always, she was articulate and passionate and excited about learning.

How does one keep the presence of an online friend alive after they have gone? I don’t know. I’ve set up a Team in my Kiva site, to start funneling donations to needy projects in Jenn’s name. I invite you to join me with the ForJenn team, but I will be happy even if it a team of one (me), for each time donations go out, I will be reminded of Jenn. I will be looking for education and youth projects to support, and if there is a musical element, even better. She would have liked that.

And a prose poem, too. How else to deal with loss than with some words in verse?

forJenn
forJenn by Dogtrax
Peace (in the mourning),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Odds and Ends of This and That

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I’m feeling a bit of the Monday morning quarterback, with a lot of loose threads. So this Slice of Life is a mix of small parts of various things from yesterday.

First of all, my plan to assess a pile of student work at the mall while my son was watching 300 with his friends went south when I was told I needed to be in the movie theater with him and his friends due to the R rating. I understand but I was frustrated. I had my “teacher vision” on, only to be disrupted by a movie that I had no interest in seeing. I mean, no interest at all.

My six word review of 300:Rise of an Empire

Too much violence. Not enough story.

In the early morning hours, I often check out the Daily Create, which is a daily prompt by the DS106 folks that can really push your creative boundaries. (For example, this morning, the task is to create a video that flows backwards in time). Yesterday, the prompt was to create a weather map with something that would not be on a weather map. I have no idea where I came up with this but my ideas was The Great Pet Migration of 2014. Instead of a gold rush, it was a kibble rush from east to west, and west to east.

If you see a herd of cats or a herd of dogs outside your window, now you know. You saw it on the map. Maps don’t lie, right?

Map of Migrating Pets

And finally, I was playing around with a music app yesterday morning. I am trying to come up with some theme music for poems that I might write in April, and I am intrigued by an app I have called Musyc, that .. well .. it’s hard to explain. You create music by manipulating objects.

What this music looks like

It turns out you can also make a video of a musical piece, so I gave that a try. The first one I did was too large, and the app crashed, so I tried a second time, with a smaller piece, and it worked. Later, I realized that this piece looks like a face, and then I started thinking … that’s an idea for another time. A face of music. Stay tuned.


(The volume seems low to me.)

Oh, I did find time in the evening to get to my students’ writing, and am going to finish up as soon as I hit …. publish.

Peace (in the disconnected slices),
Kevin

PS — One more thing – it was NCAA Selection Sunday and both of my local men’s colleage teams — UMass and UConn — are in the mix. We were surprised that UMass got a higher seed than UConn, but we’re happy in our house to see UMass back in March Madness. Now, can they win? We’ll see …

From A to B and Back Again: Flowchart Poetry

I found myself diving down one of those writing rabbit holes yesterday morning as I began exploring some of the “add-ons” that are now available in Google Drive. One of the free programs — WebSequenceDiagrams — creates flowcharts, with a little sequential coding.

I wondered if there was a way to write a poem in a flowchart format? Could the ideas of the poem be represented visually and with connections back and forth? So, I gave it a go.

From A to B and Back Again: A Flowchart of a Poem

This verse emerged
as I went in reverse …

flowchart poem code

from ideas
to words
to poems
to publishing
to comments
to collaboration
to poems
to words
to ideas

Flowchart Poem

all the way back to where I first started,
opening the door here
for you.

Interesting, eh? But does it work as a poem? I’m not sure the diagram flows exactly as I had it in mind, and that might be limited by the free version of the add-on, as much as my own lack of understanding flow charts. Still … intriguing possibilities.

Peace (in the visual),
Kevin